Weird Perspective

Julia Glass had cancer,
and more:
She and her husband Dennis
also had something else after a while.
As she relates in An Uncertain Inheritance,
Wit, I came to realize, is a precious and essential kind of care when one is ill—not jokes; just the weird new perspective of someone who stands on the outside yet loves you and wants to see you well and happy. Dennis had recently spotted bicycle messengers zipping around town with LED strips mounted behind them, clever advertising space for all manner of local commerce, from ministorage to livery cabs. My bald head, he suggested, might be useful to sell as an advertising opportunity. We decided I could wear an LED headband with a revolving commercial similar to the strip of headlines that orbits the center of Times Square. “How about,” I suggested, thinking of all the pharmaceutical ads lately proliferating on TV, “‘Adriamycin! Ask your doctor if it’s right for you.'”

Comedy, Lenny Bruce once said,
is tragedy plus time.
As caregivers, we may face the tragedy
of another’s disease or accident or serious loss
as we go through our days with them.
Early on, the sadness can be severe,
the misery unavoidable.
But over the course of time,
often something begins to shift.
Even if the gravity of the situation is
no less real, no less daunting,
it somehow becomes more familiar,
more usual.
So what do we do next
when the heaviness becomes old hat?
Sometimes we joke about it,
as one way of facing this hard reality
and including it in our conversation,
without succumbing to it,
without giving it complete power over us.
As we jest in a manner
that has a dark humor to it,
and as we smile at these weird thoughts,
we partially diffuse some of the fear,
some of the dread.
We lay claim to our humanity
by choosing to laugh freely
at what once brought tears.
Sorrow, we’re reminding one another,
is only part of the story.
When we can laugh,
even with a quirky sense of humor
that others may not understand,
we look unflinchingly at what we’re facing
and say clearly, “Joy still exists.”
So does hope.
So does our bond,
strengthened by this amusement we share.

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